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Determinants of online community members' behaviour in the joining and post-joining stages

By Pei-Yu Pai


An increasing number of firms are attempting to host online communities for commercial purposes, such as building relationships with their customers, getting their feedback, and strengthening the brand. Because of such wide-ranging impacts, scholars have dedicated considerable efforts to understanding the processes of online community development and cultivation. This thesis, drawing on both marketing and information management literature, proposes an online community participation behaviour model that includes community-focused and member-focused factors as well as the psychological and social mediating mechanisms underlying the relationships between participation determinants and actual participation behaviour. Specifically, the thesis develops and tests two distinct but related research frameworks for empirical investigation in two joining phases. Framework 1, in the joining stage, delineates the temporary encounter when newcomers first visit a new or unfamiliar online community, focusing on the period of transition from attraction to member acquisition. Theoretically, the model draws on initial trust and signalling theory to examine the impact of initial trust on member recruitment in online communities. It was tested with 434 responses relating to nine Taiwanese online community platforms using structural equation modelling. The results indicate that, in online community contexts, initial trust is a significant mechanism for first-time visitors to make a joining decision. Moreover, the results reveal that personal innovativeness and susceptibility to normative influence respectively weakens and strengthens the linkages. Framework 2, in the post-joining stage, attempts to enhance understanding of members‘ proactive behaviour in online community settings. The conceptual model highlights the mediating roles of reciprocity norms and social identification in the impacts of participation factors on decisions about proactive participation. According to self-reported data from two time periods and objective behavioural data (526 participants), enjoyment plays a relatively important role than the other factors in triggering member participation behaviour. In addition, leader support, member receptivity, and community informativeness combine to determine members‘ participation behaviour through the norm of reciprocity and social identification with the online community. Overall, this thesis not only clarifies the theoretical relationship between participation determinants and participation behaviour but also improves the understanding of how different factors jointly explain both potential and exsiting members‘ participation decisions. The thesis concludes with the theoretical and managerial implications of these findings, as well as several important research issues and future research avenues

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